Our Brief around the Human Rights Council 52 session highlighitng the situation of women, one year after the military coup in Sudan

[This document is prepared by Sudanese women’s rights groups supported by ISHR and MENA coalition for WHRDs]

In contexts like Sudan, women are at the frontlines in responding to the intersectional crises (political, humanitarian, and economic.) These mounting disasters produced multiple crises conditions for Sudanese women in three principal areas: women rights, gender inequality, and women peace and security. 

During the last year of military rule, Sudanese women lost important opportunities and achievements. The progress created after the revolution in 2019 was either renounced or reversed. The achievements in legal reforms, participation in the public space and freedom of association and speech were retrograded. The numbers of women on the streets protesting the military regime instigated institutionally-organized attacks against women activists and groups. These attacks included sexual violence against women protesters/ activists, shrinking of the civic space for women’s rights groups, in addition to mounting threats to the work of WHRDs. The rising conflicts in different areas of the country produced thousands of displaced families, mostly women and children. Collapsing economy increased the numbers of people in need of humanitarian aid. Third of the country’s population are living in acute food insecurity or hunger, with an increase in the numbers of 1.5 million within one year. As the emergency laws were in place for 5 months, followed by total collapse of the justice system for one year, women’s access to justice was jeopardized by the military regime. Women’s access to healthcare, specifically sexual and reproductive care was affected by the unaffordable prices and collapsing healthcare system following the pandemic. 

Since the coup, hundreds of women were arrested, over 9 were injured in their eyes, at least 3 lost their sight in one eye. Over 50 women had to go through extreme medical intervention including complicated surgeries. At least 23 have been raped since October 2021, some have been gang raped. In 2022, over 211,000 people were displaced by inter-communal conflicts and armed attacks this year, mostly women and children. More than 97,000 from Blue Nile in the last 4 months. More than 340,000 are affected by floods, mostly women in rural and conflict areas. One in three school-aged children do not go to school in Sudan, mostly girls. These are 6.5 million. Without urgent action, the learning crisis in Sudan will become a generational catastrophe, according to UNICEF.

The militarization of the State created the principal threat to women’s rights in Sudan. In the absence of the rule of law, and the complete impunity granted to the military forces, women’s rights in Sudan are under attack everyday. Recently, women’s presence in public spaces, and participation in basic life activities such as going to work is a mounting challenge..

During the last year, the state of emergency has hindered the work of the justice system and led to delays in the regular court procedures related to cases of domestic violence, divorce and children’s custodies. But most importantly, the emergency laws have increased State sponsored violence against women. This includes violence against women protesters, WHRDs and women’s rights groups.

The situation of women’s rights in Sudan is in unprecedented disastrous conditions. The military coup increased the militarization of the State at every level. The existence of troops in Khartoum and the streets of other cities is replicating the images of war zones in the country during the former regime. Insecurity, public humiliation and risk of arrest or sexual abuse by troops around Sudan became a daily source of worrisome for Sudanese women. The mere walking on the streets is a major risk in many areas inside the capital. During the last year, the numbers of looting attacks by army soldiers, police officers and RSF troops are beyond our ability to count. These looting attacks took place after protests, during regular days and even casually on the streets. Women’s fundamental rights to safety and security was a struggle, with 9 armies and militias in the country representing the face of military rule in Sudan.

Women’s right to freedom of association and expression have been under attack since the military coup. The continuous crackdown on protests and media outlets closed the spaces of freedom for women. Discussions around women’s rights issues are sidelined or prevented in public media and government institutions. Women’s rights groups and WHRDs are facing continuous smearing campaigns and surveillance of their work and movement. Hundreds of WHRDs and women protesters were detained and prosecuted, most of them were tortured and sexually abused during these processes. Journalists and social media activists were arrested and prosecuted, dozens received threats or dismissed from their jobs due to their activism. Women leaders and members of professional and trade unions were threatened with dismissal from their jobs because of their support of the protest movement against the coup.

Women groups were not able to return to their work after the coup, especially in the areas of women’s rights issues. On December 14th, 2022, the office of Alharisat was raided by a force of plain cloth men who presented a warrant for violations of the city garbage disposal law. But the force searched the offices and looked for the cabinet of the director in particular and broke into her office in her absence. The forces harassed and threatened two of the organization’s staff who were in the office. They threatened the group’s members with arrest and detention if they did not allow them to search the computers of the organization.

On December 5th, 2022, the Sudanese military and some political parties and civic groups signed a framework agreement to pave the way for a power transition to civilian forces. But the agreement was not widely welcomed by local resistance movements, including resistance committees and some women groups. The protests continued across the country demanding a comprehensive transitional process that respects the people’s demands for accountability, peace, and justice. In the meantime, the security forces crackdown on protests is sustained, while the violations of freedoms of assembly, expression, and association continues. Following the political framework agreement, attacks on WHRDs and women groups continued as the violence in conflict areas escalated.

In conflict areas, women are victims of the escalating conflicts and rising humanitarian crisis. Jameela Adam, 30 years old, mother of 3 children was killed on December 31st, 2022 while fetching wood in South Darfur. On January 6th, 2023, members of the former regime kidnapped and raped a 15 year old girl, who is the daughter of one of the members of the dismantling committee of the Albashir regime. Hundreds of women have been displaced in Darfur since December 15th, 2022. Dozens were injured and at least one woman was killed during militia attacks in Central Darfur. In Khartoum, one woman protester lost her eye during protests on December 13th, 2022, in Omdurman. She was shot by a gas canister shotgun in her eye when the security forces violently cracked down on the protests. 

The signing of the political framework last December was welcomed by members of the international community and considered a step towards restoration of the democratic process in Sudan. But the increasing violence against women, WHRDs and women civil society following the framework signing is sending alarming concerns about the ability of this agreement to provide security and freedom from violence for Sudanese women. The framework deal failed to finalize agreements on the issues of justice and peace. Women civil society groups and WHRDs are under serious threats amid these circumstances, therefore, urgent actions must be taken to ensure stable democratic transition that provides justice, peace and respect of human rights for Sudanese people. 

Recommendations for States to raise in their statements during the debate on Sudan at HRC51:

  • Call on the international community  and stakeholders to take urgent action to stop the escalation of  systemic violence against Sudanese women.
  • Call on the Sudanese government to immediately end the violence against WHRDs, women’s rights groups and women protesters and protect the rights of WHRDs to advocate and promote women and human rights.
  • Urge the Sudanese political actors and international community to prioritize justice and accountability in any upcoming political solution.